Most of the lesser complex animals, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and reptiles probably have a worldview along the lines of ‘it just is’ and accept whatever comes along – go with the flow. But once you consider the relatively higher and more complex animals, like birds and mammals, then brain complexity becomes such that to a greater or lesser degree, intelligence and the ability to think and figure things out has to be taken into consideration.
Humans maybe top of the pops when it comes to smarts and figuring things out, but that doesn’t mean that every non-human life form has the IQ of a microbe. I strongly suspect that birds and mammals develop a personal worldview mythology that explains to their satisfaction all that they see and experience daily.
Further, for all such animals that develop a direct or indirect relationship with humans they must additionally evolve a personal mythology that’s understandable within their larger worldview that puts us in their Big Picture. That mythology, their POV is going to be grossly incorrect of course, but they don’t know that. They, in all honesty can not comprehend the sum total of those experiences they share directly with human activity and so to some degree or other they develop a mythological worldview that somehow explains what humans do within their own context. However, sometimes humans feature only indirectly and so their POV doesn’t actually involve humans in any shape, manner or form.
So the purpose of this little essay is to illustrate those animals (i.e. – birds and mammals) that interact directly or indirectly with humans (in a good, indifferent, bad or god-awful way) have a somewhat human-centred mythology even if they aren’t aware of it. Taking one specific animal as an example, consider the following tale of the possum.
I have a possum that visits my back courtyard overnight. I know that because I often see its poo; actually I once saw it silhouetted against the backdrop of a lighted window of a house opposite mine. Presumably the possum hasn’t spotted me; it being a creature of the night and I being a creature of the day. Now presumably the possum hunts around at night, foraging for food. It’s been an usually long and bitterly cold Australian winter here in the nation’s capital, Canberra, so, in empathy for a fellow life-form who has a far tougher life than I, I took to leaving out for it in the early evening an apple. In the morning following, it was gone – the apple that is. Now I, as an intelligent human, know all the facts of the matter. I buy an apple; I leave out the apple; the possum finds the apple and eats it. However, I can’t help but wonder, from the perspective of the possum, what does it make of this nightly gift of an apple, an apple that appears where there is no apple tree for miles around?
Some assumptions are in order. I assume the possum has some intelligence, an IQ, an ability to think and wonder and ponder. When something out of the ordinary occurs, it makes an impression. Translated, the sun comes up and the sun sets – nothing out of the ordinary. I doubt if the possum much ponders this fact of life. The tree it lives in exists day in and day out – nothing much to think about there. It’s warm in the summer; cold in the winter; some days it rains; most days it doesn’t rain. But that daily apple hasn’t been part and parcel of its worldview mythology – until now.
So, something new, beneficial but unexpected comes into play. Does the possum put it down to good luck, good fortune, clean living, being in the right place at the right time, or does it think deeper than that?
Now an apple appears for the first time on the ground it forages over – unusual but strange things happen. An apple appears on that same spot of ground every evening – the same spot without benefit of an apple tree. That’s not in keeping with the ordinary expectations and experiences of our possum. Because this is not something natural and ordinary within the possum’s worldview, then this has to be something extraordinary; this is something magical; this is something paranormal; this is something supernatural. Perhaps there is a supernatural Possum Deity that looks after possums in times of need, like in the wintertime when food in general and apples in particular are few and far between.
And so our possum perhaps develops this idea of something bigger than the natural world it’s used to. The possum perhaps develops a possum mythology of a Possum Deity that looks after all possums, like itself. It has to be ‘all possums’ since I’ll assume our possum has no comprehension of good possums vs. bad possums with only the former getting rewarded with an unaccounted for apple (possum manna from heaven).
But perhaps it’s seen me from the seclusion of its tree put down the apple, in which case maybe I’m the Great Possum Deity. If it sees other humans are they deities too, even if not possum deities?
Since this regularly occurring apple appears in roughly the same geographical spot night after night, might our hungry possum attribute something extraordinary to this patch of (my) backyard, (its) courtyard turf? Might that patch of ground in fact, in our possum’s worldview mythology, become our possum’s Sacred Site?
Now the possum’s perspective won’t be one based around language and it won’t be able to communicate its worldview mythology to other possums. Rather its perceptions will be based on its five senses, most prominently vision in all likelihood. It could imagine, visualise in its mind, some super-sized (Santa Claus type deity) possum delivering apples without having words for ‘apple’ or ‘possum’ or ‘deity’ or ‘gift giver’ or even ‘human’. It wouldn’t have words for ground or ‘Sacred Site’, rather a mental image that this patch of ground is extra-special. Such an image, as opposed to the words we would use, wouldn’t be out of the question.
Okay, you know and I know there’s no Possum Deity, nothing mysterious or supernatural is going on, there is no Sacred Site. I know what’s going on – some farmer, hundreds of miles away sells their crop of apples to some company who hires a distributor who trucks them to Canberra and they end up in that company’s local supermarkets. You know that, and I know that, but we can’t expect the possum to know that. If this possum communicates with fellow possums (not that it can), it is not going to relate a story of a compassionate human buying an apple a day and leaving it out to be devoured by possums, far less have knowledge of that far away farmer, company, distributor, truck, supermarket, and all the infrastructure that implies, etc.
It would be fascinating to converse with that possum and find out exactly what its current worldview mythology is, even though that’s beyond our means. But, I’d bet that whatever it is, it’s wrong! Still, let’s walk a mile in its paws and try to view things like it would. That much we can do. I’ve tried to do so, but the odds are I’m wrong oo. There’s no real meeting of the minds here. Even if I came face-to-face with the possum, I couldn’t converse with it; I couldn’t convince it that its POV was wrong.
However, just like each possum has their own unique worldview mythology, so too does each and every human have a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything. The difference is that in most cases we can communicate that perspective to others of our species.
The point now is if our companion mammals have a flawed POV of their worldview mythology, one that we know is wrong, but they don’t, one that may or may not incorporate humans; do we humans have in turn a flawed POV when it comes to our worldview mythologies? The parallels between mammals (like our possum) and humans and those collective worldview mythologies we all have might suggest that we too have some flawed perceptions about life, the universe and everything that need further and continued exploration and elaboration. In that broader context, perhaps we can also have empathy with possums inasmuch as we too might have flawed worldview mythologies in the eyes of entities superior to us.